Spring, Summer, Fall – Which is it?

BWTE McGinnis 4-23-2016-7010

Blue-Winged Teal

It seems we have been through all the seasons in the course of one week. But in spite of the weather, the days are getting longer and although my efforts to observe spring migration have been limited, I still have a post within me struggling to get written.

I went to McGinnis Slough on Saturday. It was overcast but warmer than the past couple days, and not yet the predicted 80 degrees for Sunday. Sunday birding was out of the question anyway as I was singing with the Unity Temple Choir. More about that below.

The surprise right off the parking lot was to see several Great Egrets fishing and a couple Great Blue Herons as well. I expect to see these birds this time of year, but to have so many on the viewer’s side of the slough was what surprised me, although I did not get close enough for great shots because I didn’t want to risk disturbing them anymore than I already was…

Passerines were few and far between.

There were distant American White Pelicans although a couple came in for a second or two.

Among American Coots, Ring-Necked Ducks, a couple Buffleheads and a Scaup or two there were several Northern Shovelers.

Above, a surprise visit from a Muskrat, and a Double-Crested Cormorant drying off.

Maybe my best captures were the Caspian Terns.

Caspian Tern McGinnis 4-23-2016-6863

Caspian Tern McGinnis 4-23-2016-6861At opposite ends of the slough, I ran into two other individual birders and we exchanged information. The second one suggested I go to the newest section of Orland Grasslands to look for Lapland and Smith’s Longspurs. I find it a bit funny that I exchanged names with neither of these people, but it’s probably all any of us can do to talk to each other with the distraction of looking for birds first and foremost in our minds.

Orland 4-23-2016-7143

A section of Orland Grasslands

By the time I got to Orland there were no Longspurs that I could see, but I did have a couple Horned Larks. Next time I’ll go there first and maybe get luckier.

A well-camouflaged Killdeer was present also…

Killdeer Orland 4-23-2016-7096And more Caspian Terns.

Caspian Terns Orland 4-23-2016-7108As for Sunday’s choir performance, below is the poster that tells it all.

Beatitude Mass for the HomelessThis beautiful and moving experience will be part of me for a long time to come. And in a moment of reflection later, about the unifying experience while we were singing, I realized maybe I gained an insight into something the birds do all the time…

So I wrote a little poem about it:

 A choir takes flight.
Sopranos, altos, tenors, baritones, basses all come together
As one organism, on the wave of a vibration
One sound with many voices.
Imperceptibly, a slight hesitation explodes rapid-fire through the entirety,
The entrance dangling in the balance,
Just as imperceptibly, swept back into the fold of the music
Like a murmuration of starlings
Carried far above the trappings of gravity
Weightless,
Wait-less,
Into the rafters

Chasing Predators: In Search of Snowy Owls and Prairie Falcons

Falcon Sky IMG_9454_1

Unidentified Falcon

Reports came last weekend from Coles County, Illinois–farm country about 3 hours south of Chicago–of sightings for two rare visitors: Snowy Owl and Prairie Falcon.

Even though Illinois is a “prairie” state, a Prairie Falcon sighting is a rarity. I saw one fly by in New Mexico last year but it’s a bird I would definitely like to see again. So I gladly joined three friends (as an aside, when we go out on expeditions together we call ourselves the 4 L’s or the Four Elles, all of our names beginning with “L”) for a day trip Sunday to comb the farm roads searching for these elusive creatures.

Farm Road wih Horned Lark - can you find it?

Farm Road wih Horned Lark – can you find it?

Alas, we did not find our target birds. An hour or two into our drive, in fact, we read a report of two Snowy Owls at Northerly Island back on the Chicago lakefront, the direction we were driving away from. But they were being harassed by…my crows, I’m afraid, and eventually left. I have reason to believe they are my crows evicted from the former Daley Bicentennial Plaza now under current destruction; earlier this winter an increase in the crow population was reported at Northerly Island. Crows would be the first to notice the Snowy Owls. But I’m also thinking if they had not harassed the owls, the owls might have gone unnoticed. There’s nothing like crows to detect the presence of predators and call your attention to them. Come to think of it, we could have used a few crows on Sunday to find the falcon for us…

Kestrel Hunting IMG_9321_1

Our first bird was an American Kestrel, hunting in a field, then perched on the wire,

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that just would not become a Prairie Falcon. It had a vole and was trying to eat its prey, but we couldn’t get close enough for decent photographs.

Kestrel w prey IMG_9383_1

Kestrel w prey IMG_9384_1

I’m afraid he got tired of us watching him.

After several more Kestrels, which I was still thrilled to see as they have all but disappeared from the Chicago area, we did have another falcon… this solitary creature, which might have been a Merlin. The bird appeared to be a juvenile, whatever it was. No matter how much we tried to make it into the sought-after species, it sat quietly in the middle of the field, no doubt amused by all the people peering at it, by now, with scopes from both sides, knowing we were too far away to get really decent looks.

Falcon IMG_9493_1

Even though these pictures are hardly worth publishing, we Four Elles had a great time, over the course of the day getting great if brief looks at Rough-Legged Hawk and Northern Harriers, lots of American Tree Sparrows and Horned Larks, and it was our last chance for sunshine for quite a while. The days are getting longer, but it seems the winter weather is just beginning.